Sunday Sermon for September 3, 2023, the Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A
Readings: Jer 20:7-9; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27
In the first reading today, we hear one of my favorite lines in all of Scripture: “You duped me Lord, and I let myself be duped.” I suspect all of us have felt this way at some point in our spiritual journey; perhaps we have even said something similar. But has God actually duped us? I think the problem is that we dupe ourselves.
When we read the Prophet Jeremiah, God told him what to expect right from the beginning. Jeremiah was called to go and preach, but the people would not listen to him. Nonetheless, God would make the prophet like a wall of brass. Perhaps Jeremiah thought this meant nothing would hurt him. After all, he was doing God’s will and God’s work, so it should be pleasant, easy, and acceptable. Right?
For those of you who are married, can we say that your marriage has been nothing but romance, enjoyment, pleasure, peace, happiness? After all, many sources tell us that when one gets married, the couple “lives happily ever after.” Marriage is about growing in love, but if we misunderstand love to be romance or emotions, then things will be very unpleasant. If God called you to marriage and to love this other person, did He dupe you into thinking it was going to be a cakewalk? Did He dupe you into thinking how romantic and exciting everything was going to be for the rest of your life? Or did you dupe yourself into thinking this way?
This question becomes most important when we look at our choice to follow the Lord. Many Christians today, even a number of Catholics, seem to think that as long as you believe in Jesus you will not have any problems. As long as you believe in Jesus, you will be wealthy, life will be easy, and He will jump to fulfill your every prayer, no matter how selfish it may be.
The “Gospel of Health and Wealth” is still popular today. Remember, Jesus doesn’t want you to suffer; He did it all for you. My challenge to anyone who believes this is true is always the same: show me where the Bible says that (or even hints at it). Did the Lord dupe us into thinking this way, or did we do this to ourselves?
In the Gospel reading today, Jesus begins by telling His Apostles that He was going to Jerusalem where He would suffer and be put to death. Peter, who had just professed Jesus to be the Christ and the Son of God, rebuked Jesus for saying this. Recall there are two different presentations regarding the Messiah in the Old Testament. One describes the suffering Christ while the other describes the glorious coming of the Messiah. Like many, Peter probably overlooked the passages about the suffering Messiah and focused, instead, on the “good” parts.
Our Lord’s response to Peter is apropos for anyone caught in these fairytale ideas about what it means to be a Christian: “You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” This is exactly what St. Paul realized and taught, as we hear in the second reading: “Do not conform yourselves to this age, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.”
For us, good, pleasing, and perfect sounds like sitting at the beach, sipping tea, and enjoying the beauty. Jesus says: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” What is good, pleasing, and perfect to God may not seem so good, pleasing, and perfect to us at first. But the Saints teach us differently. They teach us, as Jesus does, that it is by sharing in our Lord’s Passion that we should rejoice. This is not because it is fun and easy, but because this is what allows us to grow in and perfect our love for God and neighbor. Since the greatest commandments in the Law are to love God and neighbor, then whatever helps us to grow in love should bring us the greatest joy. Our selfishness usually disagrees with this, which is why we need a renewal of our minds.
Fairy tales are nice, but in order to live happily ever after, we need to be perfected in love. Getting there is not easy, but the fruit of the suffering is well worth the price we will need to pay. In Heaven, we will think as God thinks and will as He wills and love as He loves; then we will be perfectly happy. But even now, we can experience this joy if we deny ourselves, renew our minds, and seek what is truly good, pleasing, and perfect.
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.